The Slippery Map by N. E. Bode and Brandon Dorman - Read Online
The Slippery Map
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Summary

If you've ever whiled away an afternoon dreaming of another world, then you know that place is real.

Oyster R. Motel has dreamed of another world for almost his whole life. (But that's only understandable—he's been raised in a nunnery. Do you think nuns approve of swinging from the belfry? Of raising tadpoles in the holy water? Of playing the organ at all hours? They do not.)

Oyster didn't even know that imaginations could be mapped; he barely knew he had an imagination. But then a gust of wind and a distant voice send him on a dizzying ride in a silver bucket, and Oyster finds himself, his own map in hand, in someone else's imaginary world—a place where rivers breathe and sugar snows down from the sky. Whose world is it? And what does it have to do with Oyster's map? You'll have to read the book to find out.

Imagine that.

Published: HarperCollins on
ISBN: 9780061906015
List price: $9.99
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The Slippery Map - N. E. Bode

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Bode

CHAPTER 1

THE AWFUL MTDs

(BALTIMORE, SOUTH OF PRATT STREET)

It had been a fearful summer. Mrs. Fishback had told the nuns so. She got her news from the mini-TV that she brought with her each morning when she came to work in the nunnery kitchen.

The Awful MTDs, Mrs. Fishback told the nuns over lunch on this one particular day. Her pudgy nose flushed with agitation, and maybe a little joy, because Mrs. Fishback was the kind of person who enjoyed a fearful summer. Mysterious Temporary Disappearances. Kids, always kids, disappearing! Poof! Just gone! Then time passes and poof! They’re back! She explained with great relish how one girl had disappeared into her Hula Hoop. She was from the next town over and went missing for thirty minutes. Her mother was holding the hoop in her living room, weeping, with the police all around, and then the girl bounced back out of the hoop, like she’d been given a good shove.

Mrs. Fishback continued on from her perch on a kitchen stool near her mini-TV and the phone where she made all official nunnery calls, patting the fatty rump of her dog, a dachshund named Leatherbelly who had a narrow snout and labored to breathe. Two more kids disappeared into tire swings, another into her grandmother’s sofa cushions. Four minutes gone for one. Three minutes missing for another. A boy in Arbutus was gone three hours after stepping into a box that had packaged a refrigerator. She smiled brightly through the tender description of the whole town gathered around the box, keeping vigil till he was belched back into the world. Alvin Peterly. Poor boy! She shook her head. And who knows what will happen today? Maybe one will disappear for good! And then she added, with terrible glee in her voice, Wouldn’t that be awful?

Mrs. Fishback hated children even though she had seven of them. (Or perhaps because she had seven of them; it’s hard to say with some folks.) If she wasn’t spouting off about something horrible on the news, she was complaining about her children, who were all grown now and lived far away—as did Mr. Fishback. That didn’t stop her from griping that the children and Mr. Fishback had always been too messy, too loud, too costly, too rude, too runty, too slow, too feisty, too dull, too whiny, too piggish, too foul. She often said, I should have thrown all of them out on their ears!

She had taken the administrator job in the nunnery a few months earlier because, she assumed, there would be no children in it.

She was wrong.

This nunnery was home to thirteen nuns and one ten-year-old boy named Oyster.

As you know, ten-year-old boys aren’t supposed to live in nunneries. Right now you might be saying to yourself, Nuns are supposed to live in nunneries; that’s why they’re called nunneries! Well, yes, true, but life is odd, you know, and you can’t be overly rigid about the English language. (Nurses don’t live in nurseries! Novels don’t live in novelties! No, no. And they don’t just live in novelists either; they live in hearts, you know, and everyone’s got a heart.) Plus, it wasn’t strange to Oyster to be living in a nunnery, even this nunnery where all of the nuns had taken vows of silence. He’d lived in a nunnery ever since he could remember, ever since he was an infant dropped off at the nunnery’s gate wrapped in a Royal Motel towel and placed in a Dorsey’s Pickled Foods box. This was his home.

And he was in the kitchen this very day, putting his soup bowl in the kitchen sink, in a row of nuns who were also putting their bowls in the kitchen sink. And it should be noted that when Mrs. Fishback had said, Maybe one will disappear for good! she’d looked at Oyster, her eyebrows bearing down so that her eyes—a cold, vicious blue—looked hooded and shadowy in a grim way.

Mrs. Fishback had it in for him.

And at this point, Oyster didn’t need anyone having it in for him. You see, the nuns had quite loved Oyster when he was a baby and when he was a cute little boy. But he was now ten, and that was a different thing altogether. He’d gotten older and antsier every year, and this summer he just couldn’t stand his quiet nunnery life anymore. He wasn’t able to hold himself back.

For example, when no one was in the chapel, he jumped the pews front to back like a hurdler. Once, because he could resist it no longer, he pulled the rope on the giant bell in the belfry and went riding back and forth and all around under the bell’s skirt, flying, feeling like he himself was being rung and not the bell at all. Another time he’d pumped the organ—which was off-limits because it was much too loud. He simply couldn’t resist it any longer. Dust spouted up from its pipes until the long notes rose in a sonorous mishmash. And he was growing a tadpole in the holy water. It was wrong, yes. But the tadpole was so happy!

The nuns, on the other hand, were not so happy. There was a complaint box drilled to the chapel wall, and the nuns filled it each week with complaints about Oyster, which were discussed in a flurry of note-scribbling at a weekly meeting that Oyster wasn’t permitted to attend. He would read the notes later, however, because he was the one in charge of dumping wastebaskets, and he would sort through the notes in his room. The main thing was this: they wanted him to be more nunlike.

One had written: Does he see us jumping pews, pumping organs, riding the bell cord in the belfry? No, he does not!

There was only one nun who always stuck up for him: Sister Mary Many Pockets, as he’d named her early on because of the many things she always had in the many pockets hidden in the long skirt of her habit—rosaries, peanuts, scissors, tape, cough drops, a tennis ball—anything, really, that you might need.

She was there in the kitchen, too, this very day. In fact, when Mrs. Fishback said that awful remark, Maybe one will disappear for good! Sister Mary Many Pockets patted Oyster on the shoulder, pulled a peanut from one of her pockets, cracked its shell, and looked at Oyster in a way that said, Don’t pay her any mind!

But there was something shaky in Sister Mary Many Pockets’s gaze these days. She was nervous about a revolt against Oyster, too. And so, just below the look that said, Don’t pay her any mind! there was another look that said, Can’t you be just a little bit more like us? Just a little?

Oyster shuffled quickly out of the kitchen, but not quickly enough to miss Mrs. Fishback saying, It’s not natural to have a boy in a nunnery, you know that. Not natural! And there’s something wrong with him, don’t you think? Something off about that little newt.

Oyster ran upstairs to his bedroom, knowing she was right. He had no parents, for one thing—or he had but they’d wrapped him in a Royal Motel towel, plopped him in a Dorsey’s Pickled Foods box, and dumped him at a nunnery gate. Sister Mary Many Pockets was the one who’d found Oyster in the Royal Motel towel and Dorsey’s Pickled Foods box, and she had kept him safe ever since. She was the one who’d named him Oyster R. Motel: Oyster because his heart was a pearl, and R. Motel for Royal Motel, because she figured it might be important for him to have these clues to his beginnings embedded into his name.

Since Oyster hadn’t known how he’d gotten here, he’d assumed it was a miracle of sorts. The only birth story he really knew was of a miracle birth and so it didn’t seem unusual. He was just born! He’d just arrived!

But that spring, he’d started asking questions. How exactly did I get here? Why don’t I have parents? Sister Mary Many Pockets, it turns out, had been waiting for such questions, and she scribbled down the real story on slips of paper, dragging out the Dorsey Pickled Foods box and the Royal Motel towel.

Oyster tried, at first, to fit it in with the miracle. Maybe I was born from the box! Already wrapped in a swaddling towel! he said.

But, no, Sister Mary Many Pockets shook her head, and she wrote it out again.

Nowadays, Oyster sometimes imagined that his parents were normal parents who lived on a quiet street and that he lived with them and often played on a backyard swing set. But he had trouble with these imaginings. First of all, they made him feel guilty. These imaginings would have hurt Sister Mary Many Pockets’s feelings, he was sure. But also Oyster had trouble with the logic of the imaginings. What kind of people would leave a kid in a towel in a box at a nunnery gate? What kind of people did Oyster come from? The abandoning variety. And Oyster wondered if his naughtiness this summer might just be a result of the stock he came from—the unavoidable nature of his true self.

And so Mrs. Fishback had a point that Oyster couldn’t argue against, because he believed it too. There was something off about him, and even though he would try to be good—very, very good—he couldn’t. The main problem was that Oyster was lonesome.

On this particular day he’d spent the morning with the only friends he had collected. Firstly, there was a sickly baby bird that he kept in his bedroom closet and fed unconsecrated hosts, worms found in deep holes he dug in the nunnery garden, and water from an eyedropper. Secondly, there was his moth collection. He’d collected most of his moths in the nunnery attic, putting them in a cardboard box with a mesh lid that he’d made himself. Lastly, he’d take time to feed the tadpole in the holy water.

Now he sat on the edge of his bed with an electric fan pointed at his head and looked out his window at the street beyond the nunnery gate—as he did every day after lunch. Oyster wasn’t allowed beyond the gate. He didn’t even go to school. He was educated by Sister Mary Many Pockets from mail-order textbooks. The only time he ever left was to get shots at the doctor’s office.

From the window, Oyster could see the Chinese restaurant Dragon Palace, with its painted red dragon. Every day after lunch, the owner would put out a little chair, and a boy with leg braces would be plopped in the chair. He held on to a blue paper umbrella. Oyster waved to him, and the boy spun the blue paper umbrella and smiled. It was a small signal to each other that they’d developed, not having ever met.

He was the closest thing Oyster had to a real friend. But Oyster wanted more than just waving and umbrella spinning from a friendship.

Next to Dragon Palace sat Gold’s Fancy Pawn Shop and Cash Store, where an old graying dog guarded the front door at night. Its greasy front window was crammed with dented silver heirlooms and old saxophones and jewelry boxes, which sometimes caught the morning sun and shone like mirrors. As its name states, it was also a cash store where people could buy money. This made no sense to Oyster.

Above Gold’s Fancy Pawn Shop and Cash Store there was a billboard that read: WE BLEACH TEETH. It was Dr. Fromler’s billboard: DENTISTRY FOR THE YOUNG (AND AGED). At the bottom of the sign, there was a list of Fromler’s special line of MIND AND BODY PRODUCTS: BRAIN ENHANCER TABLETS, MR. PUMPED-UP MUSCLES NOSE SPRAY, CHILD-CALMING MENTHOL DROPS; PLUS: HIGH-SCHOOL-DIPLOMA-IN-A-BOTTLE KIT, FISHING AND HUNTING LICENSES, AND COUPONS FOR HAIR WEAVES.

The nuns went to Dr. Fromler when their teeth went bad. Oyster had never been to a dentist. But the billboard reminded Oyster of the outside world—and how it could have good things: enhanced brains, pumped-up muscles, calmed children, hair weaves! Oyster wasn’t exactly sure what it all meant, but he loved the set of sparkling teeth on the billboard smiling down on him. At night the smile was lit with big white bulbs. The smile made him feel less lonesome.

More and more, Oyster wanted to go out there into the world, just for a quick exploration. But Sister Mary Many Pockets always reminded him of the dangers: thieves, slashers, looters, rioters, fire-eaters, evildoers, carjackers (Mrs. Fishback had taught her this term), gunslingers. The nuns had always been afraid of the outside world. For as long as he could remember, every Tuesday morning Sister Alice Self-Defense had been teaching all of the other nuns how to protect themselves in case of attack. Oyster didn’t want to be thieved or slashed or looted or rioted against; and more than that, he didn’t want to leave because Sister Mary Many Pockets would worry and fret and be swallowed up in sorrow (this is what she’d written to Oyster on her little slips of paper).

On this eventful day, Oyster was looking out the window when he heard a commotion downstairs: excessive screeching and much bustling. He heard more screeching and bustling down the hall of bedrooms. And there was even more screeching and bustling overhead. Screeching and bustling usually were bad news for Oyster.

This time, Sister Margaret of the Long Sighs and Withering Glare had twisted her ankle on one of his worm holes and had dragged herself into the parlor, gathering a nervous crowd along the way. At the same time, Sister Elizabeth Thick Glasses was suffering an attack of blurred vision, because Oyster had once again borrowed her eyedropper and she blindly staggered into her own locked door.

Oyster had left his moth collection in the attic by accident, and Sister Clare of the Mighty Flyswatter, on annual attic reorganization duty, had knocked over its lid. She pulled out her mighty flyswatter and waved it madly at the cloud of moths that rose, but her specialty was flies and so the moths now roamed the nunnery in a cloud.

There were so many uprisings that even the bird sitting in its nest on Oyster’s desk was rattled and launched itself into the air. Oyster was overjoyed and opened his bedroom door to let it out.

Unfortunately, at exactly that moment, Mother Superior (who’d just dipped her fingers into the holy water and had been jolted by the sight of a small leaping frog—Oyster’s tadpole had finally matured!) was marching to find Oyster and was charged by the bird instead. Oyster watched the flapping bird and the flapping nun, and knew that he was doomed. He ran down a set of back stairs that led to the kitchen.

The kitchen was empty except for Leatherbelly, who’d flopped on one side on the tile floor, his belly ballooning up. Oyster was a little afraid of Leatherbelly. Mrs. Fishback had taught Leatherbelly to growl at Oyster, from a smack on the nose and the command Growl! Leatherbelly would do his best. He’d growl, pant to catch his breath, and growl some more. Right now he just stared at Oyster with his big eyes, too lazy to growl without Mrs. Fishback around to smack his nose.

Oyster could hear a herd of footsteps: nuns. How many of them? Well, I don’t know if you’ve ever listened to a herd of nuns before, but because of the rubber texture of the soles of their shoes, it’s impossible to guess how many might be coming at you at any one time. Even Oyster, who had much experience with nuns and the sound of their shoes, was at a loss.

Shoving his shoulders to his ears, he quickly slipped into the broom closet. It was a very narrow broom closet, and broom closets are usually narrow. His head was surrounded by broom handles. The vacuum cleaner’s rectangular nose blocked his